Municipal Law Alert, September 2008
Which municipal employees are supervisors? This is a question not often considered by many local governments. However, the answer to the question determines which employees belong to the bargaining unit of a union. For a municipality to protect its management rights, it is very important that the municipality has clearly identified the duties of employees in supervisory positions.
Wisconsin led the nation in the development of public sector unions. The public sector unions initially thrived in the more populous cities, villages and counties. In recent years, the unions have been making inroads into smaller governmental entities.
In a recent dispute in western Wisconsin, a union contended that the director of public works was a lead worker. The union took this position because a lead worker is included in the bargaining unit. The municipal officials were concerned that, without a supervisor over the public works department, the municipality would have ongoing management problems with the department. The union only conceded two supervisory positions existed in the municipality. One position was the police chief and the other the municipal clerk.
The Wisconsin Employment Relations Committee (WERC) ordered a hearing on the matter. Testimony was taken from the union, the director of public works, the mayor and an alderman. The WERC held that the director of public works was a supervisor and, therefore, could not be a member of the union. The municipal officials were relieved, knowing that the municipality would continue to exert effective management control over the public works department.
This dispute is an example of the importance of maintaining municipal records. The key factor in the municipality’s favor was the existence of clear job descriptions and documentation establishing the level of supervisory authority delegated to the position over the years. Developing a municipal record system, especially for employee records, is important for the general operation of any municipality.